Name of Object:

Fragment of wooden ceiling


Palermo, Italy

Holding Museum:

Regional Gallery of Sicily, Abatellis Palace

Date of Object:

Mid-12th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved wood.


Height 134 cm, width 74 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Royal (Norman) Palace, Palermo.


The ceiling, made of interlocking panels, is divided into geometric shapes by a frame with mouldings that intersect and intertwine with one another, creating squares or diamonds containing an eight-pointed star in their centre. The internal parts are carved richly and meticulously in arabesques, to form lace-like patterns. The decoration is made up of plant motifs and animals carved in full relief, including lions, gazelles, hares, birds of prey attacking their quarry and eagles with their wings outstretched. This type of decoration, with a highly worked background and the bands of the frame moulded with a simple geometric motif, is the same as is found in the more stylised stucco and plaster slabs from the medieval church of San Giuliano di Caltagirone, possibly used as decorative architectural dividers between the apse and the nave, or as an altar. The ceiling, which undoubtedly originated in a shared residence and may have come from the Royal Palace itself (suggested by the presence of figurative subjects as well as the traditional geometrical decorative motifs and arabesques) is an example of Fatimid ‘frozen realism’ (Scerrato 1979).

View Short Description

Ceiling decorated with plant motifs and carved figures of common animals such as lions, gazelles and hares. Created by Fatimid craftsmen, this example almost certainly came from the Royal Palace.

How date and origin were established:

By comparison with the Carrand ivories from Florence and shaped wood at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and see Bibliography.

How Object was obtained:

Deposit, previously held at the Royal Museum of Palermo.

How provenance was established:

From historical documents and see Bibliography.

Selected bibliography:

Delogu R., La Galleria Nazionale della Sicilia, Rome, 1977, pp.15, 59.
Scerrato U., “Arte Islamica in Italia”, in Gli Arabi in Italia (eds. F. Gabrieli and U. Scerrato), Milan, 1979, pp.524–5 and fig. 196.

Citation of this web page:

Rita Bernini "Fragment of wooden ceiling" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018.;ISL;it;Mus01_A;43;en

Prepared by: Rita BerniniRita Bernini

Storica dell'arte, ha lavorato a Palermo, presso la Galleria Regionale della Sicilia - Palazzo Abatellis e a Venezia presso la Soprintendenza per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico del Veneto.
Attualmente lavora presso il Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale "Giuseppe Tucci" e si occupa dell'Archivio delle Collezioni d'arte orientale in Italia, conservato presso il museo.
Ha pubblicato diversi articoli sull'arte siciliana, veneta e romana.

Copyedited by: Pier Paolo RacioppiPier Paolo Racioppi

Laureato e specializzato in storia dell'arte presso l'Università di Roma “La Sapienza” sta conseguendo il dottorato di ricerca in Storia e conservazione dell'oggetto d'arte e d'architettura presso l'Università di Roma TRE. Ha svolto attività seminariali presso l'Istituto di Storia dell'Arte all'Università La Sapienza di Roma e attualmente è docente di storia dell'arte del Rinascimento presso la IES at Luiss (Roma).
Ha pubblicato diversi contributi sulla tutela artistica, il collezionismo e le accademie d'arte, ed ha collaborato al Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani dell'Enciclopedia Treccani.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: IT 61


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period

Siculo–Norman Art

On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Normans in Sicily | Royal Art and Architecture


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